It’s been over 15 years since we last saw Killer Instinct, the Rare-developed fighter whose heyday coincided with those of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. With such a long period of dormancy, fighting fans were excited to learn that Double Helix is reviving the series for the launch of Xbox One. When it was announced at E3, I wondered if the return of Killer Instinct would be a quick, nostalgic cash-in. After playing several matches at a recent Xbox One event, I’m newly optimistic about the free download.
Double Helix’s business model with Killer Instinct has been known for a while, but I can’t help but think it’s a smart one for a fighting game. Considering most fighting fans focus on a handful of characters in each game, it makes sense to allow for piecemeal purchases if someone doesn’t want the whole roster. For those that want everyone available out of the gate, the entire package will be available for the very reasonable $19.99.
I played rounds as Jago, Sabrewulf, and Thunder, and a member of the Double Helix team walked me through the systems that are in place. One of the staples of the original games was the abundance of fast-paced combos (complete with screaming announcer), and they’re back in full force. Matches don’t have to be an exercise in getting hit with 25-hit combos, however, as the combo-breaker mechanic is simple and effective. You simply have to hit both the punch and kick buttons of the matching power level as your opponent, and the combo is broken. You’re not in the clear once this is activated, however, as the combo originator can fight back with a counter breaker with a well-timed press of both medium attacks.
A couple of meters are in place to shake up combat, and both forms should be familiar to fighting fans. Your shadow meter comes with two stocks, and these can be used to activate enhanced versions of your special moves. An instinct meter activates a unique power once filled, and it’s activated with both heavy attack buttons. Sabrewulf gains enhanced attack power, Glacius is granted ice armor, and Thunder is given the ability to dash in for devastating grapple attacks.
As a free download, there’s a chance that many gamers who don’t typically play fighting games will play Killer Instinct. Double Helix is preparing for this with an in-depth dojo mode that teaches everything from basics like movement and special attacks to advanced learning tools like hit boxes and frame data.
Everything I played points to Killer Instinct being a proper, modern revival of a series that many fighting game fans have fond memories of. It’s fast, fun, and accessible, and I’m a big fan of the business model that’s going into its release. If you have even a passing interest in fighting games, you’ve got nothing to lose by downloading this title for free when you boot up your new Xbox One.